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Thursday, Aug 12, 2004
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Pawar rules out duty cut in sugar, edible oil
New Delhi , Aug. 11
THE Union Food and Agriculture Minister, Mr Sharad Pawar, has ruled out reduction of import duty on sugar or edible oil in the light of possible domestic supply constraints arising from erratic monsoon.
"There is no proposal to reduce import duty from our side," he told presspersons here on Wednesday. In the case of sugar, he noted that the 2003-04 season (October-September) had begun with opening stocks of 116 lakh tonnes (lt), with production expected to touch 138 lt.
Given the likely consumption of 175 lt-180 lt, mills in the country will end the current season with stocks of almost 80 lt.
Regarding prospects for the new 2004-05 season, Mr Pawar said that the acreage under sugarcane this year has, so far, been 37.36 lakh ha, which is below the progressive area of 46.22 lakh ha. "The setback has been mainly in Maharashtra, where farmers have not been able to raise adequate adsali cane, which is the 18 month crop planted during June-July. But with good rains in the last 10 days, I expect substantial planting of the 11-month suru cane to take place in October-November," he noted.
The higher plantations during October-September, according to him, would substantially improve the supply situation next year. Mr Pawar claimed that sugar production would go up in the 2004-05 season and may even touch 150 l.t.
"The main thing is that the existing stocks are comfortable and availability is no problem. So, there is no question of imports," he stated.
As for the proposal to allow mills to import raw sugar, the Minister said that there was already a facility for import at zero duty, subject to the raw sugar being processed and exported as white sugar within 24 months of imports. "As a result, around three l.t. of raw sugar has already entered the country during the last six months. That is more than enough," he said.
As regards edible oil, the Minister noted that the area under oilseeds this year, at 154.23 lakh ha, has been higher than last year's progressive coverage of 138.49 lakh ha. "All the oilseed growing areas, whether it is Saurashtra for groundnut, Madhya Pradesh for soyabean or Karnataka for sunflower have received good rains in the recent period. Why should there be any reduction in import duty, more so when the latest Union Budget has actually increased the duty on imported palmolein from 70 per cent to 75 per cent," Mr Pawar quipped, adding that the Ministry has been monitoring prices of essential commodities on a daily basis and no significant increase in rates have been reported.
According to the Minister, the supply situation as far as farm commodities are concerned had undergone a substantial improvement in the last 10 days or so. "I was scheduled to visit Rajasthan on August 14, as the Chief Minister, Ms Vasundhara Raje Scindia, was keen that we make an assessment of drought conditions in some areas. But now those same areas have received rains to the extent that I have been asked not to make the visit," he observed.
Mr Pawar said that the recent rains had not only revived the kharif crop, but also improved the prospects for the rabi season because of better soil moisture availability. "As of now, it looks that the real damage has been restricted to just coarse cereals, particularly bajra in Rajasthan," he added.
Finance Ministry signing a different tune
EVEN as the Agriculture Minister, Mr Sharad Pawar, has ruled out the need to import any sugar, the Finance Ministry is singing an altogether different tune.
"We are very much concerned about the situation in sugar.
"A reduction in import duty is definitely under consideration", a top Finance Ministry official said, declining to elaborate further.
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